Substance Abuse Problem

Readers Question Readers Question: (Name changed for privacy)
Stanton Peele Response by: Dr. Stanton Peele
Posted on June 29th, 2008 - Last updated: February 5th, 2014
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The catch-22 of employment law: Whether to tell about a substance abuse problem


I am looking for a suggestion on how to handle the following situation:

I worked for eight years on Wall Street (I have an MBA). I did well there, and consistently received promotions and raises. Nine years ago, I had my first child and resigned (they tried very hard to talk me out of this move).

The transition from career woman to stay-at-home mom was not very smooth for me. I began drinking very heavily, and then checked myself into detox six years ago. Detox did not help me stop drinking, but few months later, I decided I had had enough and stopped. I have not had a drink in over five years.

I am currently pulling together my resume so that I can look for a job again. I am concerned about the employment application. Most of them ask whether or not you have a substance abuse problem. From my perspective, I do not. However, the hospital and the insurance company have records showing that I do.

How should I handle this question?

Thanks for your time,

Dear M:

Your problem is a real one. Your medical problems (of which alcoholism is supposedly one) are supposed not to be used against your employment, but of course they are. If you lie about your treatment, then, when they find out, they can fire you with cause for lying. That’s a Catch-22. And, of course, there’s is a good chance (maybe it is very likely) that they will find out.

Obviously, the temptation is to keep your treatment to yourself; perhaps to apply for many jobs, and take the one where they seem least likely to find out. However, I can’t advise you to lie; nor can any attorney. The best chance might be to bring a disability case, where you can’t be fired for being an alcoholic. The downside is that (a) you have lied and they can hold this against you (although then you can claim that you had no realistic choice but to lie), (b) you don’t want to call yourself an alcoholic.

Sorry I don’t have the answer. Can you let me know what you decide to do and how it works out?


Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.

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